It would seem impossible to speak of the eternal subordination or submission of the Son without falling into both the errors of subordinationism and tritheism. This is why with one voice the church has never allowed differing authority as a basis for differentiating the divine persons. Evangelicals who speak of the eternal subordination or submission of the Son attempt two strategies to avoid the charge of subordinationism. The first and most common is to argue that the subordination or submission of the Son envisaged only speaks of his functional or role subordination, not his ontological subordination. If the so-called differing function or role of the Father and the Son referred only to the operations of the divine persons, which could change and thus would not be person-defining, as these sociological terms normally indicate, then their reply would have force. However, the so-called distinctive roles or functions of the Father and the Son, namely, the Father's ruling "role" and the Son's obeying "role," are in fact eternal, necessary and person-defining.45 They eternally distinguish the Father as the Father and the Son as the Son. If this is the case, then what differentiates them is not their "role" but who they are, their very being. The Son's eternal subordinate "role" is dictated by who he is, his being. This is the error of ontological subordinationism.
- The force of these two terms should be noted. The word eternal refers to what is divine. God alone is eternal, all else is temporal. The word necessary, in theological and philosophical usage, refers to what could not be otherwise. It is something true in all possible worlds. If the Son of God is eternally and necessarily subordinate or submissive, then it means this status defines his person or being. It speaks not of how he functions or his "role" but of his ontology-what makes him who he is. He is the subordinate Son, and he cannot ever be otherwise; he does not simply function subordinately.